SWATI DAVE has an important role to play in fostering closer relations between Australia and India as the inaugural chair of the advisory board to the Centre for Australia-India Relations. The centre aims to help create a better climate for closer business and cultural ties.
She speaks about her priorities in an exclusive interview. Excerpts:
Q/ This has been one of the longest trade negotiations, but finally the Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement came into being in December 29, 2022. Apparently, there is already some development on the ground.
A/ It is policy question and a negotiation that happens government-to-government, and I can’t speak on that. But we have to recognise that, in between that period, there was Covid. There [has been] a shift in how the environment has become, and all the different things that have happened around the world have made it an imperative for these things to be formalised. At the CEO forum, Minister Piyush Goyal said that once they decided, it was the fastest free trade agreement ever delivered on both sides. It is quite significant. It is the first one of its kind. You’re already seeing that there is a great desire on both sides to drive momentum and to drive results.
Q/ The India Economic Report, which was the basis for greater engagement, refers to how Australians see India as a hard market for business.
A/ For a long time, Australia has invested in a relationship with China. I suspect similar views would have been expressed at that time that it would be a hard market. But when you focus on something, and you make it a priority, you work your way through those things. So, I think, yes, there is a challenge. But the role of the centre is really to try and break down what that is. With all relationships, you have to start with a level of understanding, a level of trust.
Q/ Has the signing of the ECTA generated interest?
A/ Certainly. One of my colleagues at the CEO forum said that there has been a noticeable uplift in interest and flows since December 29. There has been momentum. It is a wonderful indication.
Q/ How important is the diaspora in pushing the India-Australia relationship?
A/ It is critically important. The diaspora is aspirational, they are ambitious, they are vibrant. They want to make things happen. Their impact in the community is to be applauded, because it is through those connections that they are making people better understand what India is. We need to leverage that.
Q/ The proposed mobility agreement would have the largest shakeup that the Australians have seen in the labour market.
A/ A big pain point for my father when he migrated was not having his qualifications recognised. Having that mutual recognition [signed by the leaders] is a game-changer. It allows people to be more productive, much faster. Visa changes, ability for students to work, all of these things are going to add to it, because we will attract a lot of students. How do we make it easier for them once they come into the country? How do we make it easier for them to work? All of these things will add to it.
Q/ There is also a concern about Australia on students facing racism.
A/ The government is very mindful. They are very sensitive to that. There has been a lot of addressing of those issues by the government over time. I think it was a moment in time.
Q/ Both the prime ministers have talked about resilient global supply chains. How will ECTA as well as a comprehensive agreement deal push business?
A/ It is not a matter of pushing businesses. Businesses are aware of what's happening geopolitically. It is more about what governments say. If I step back and think in terms of a business person, and look at the markets you operate in, you would want to make sure they are diverse; you cannot put all your eggs in one basket. Covid-19 has taught businesses how true that is.
Q/ Dairy, which is widely exported along with walnut, has been omitted.
A/ This discussion will continue but, ultimately, they will negotiate. The intent is there to ensure both parties get something that they are both comfortable with.